Friday, March 04, 2011

High Flying Cartoons

... of both the live-action and computer-generated variety. (And how it's just so aw-ful that the things are getting made!):

As the trades speculate whether Rango will collect $40 million this weekend (or will it be $50 million?), Mark Harris at GQ whines about how American films have gone to hell in a cast-iron handcart, and it's all little more than comic book movies and animated features now.

... [I]t is technically possible that some years hence, a magazine article will begin with the sentence, "Stretch Armstrong's surprising journey to a Best Picture nomination began when..." But for now, let's just admit it: Hollywood has become an institution that is more interested in launching the next rubberized action figure than in making the next interesting movie. ...

We can all acknowledge that the world of American movies is an infinitely richer place because of Pixar and that the very best comic-book movies, from Iron Man to The Dark Knight, are pretty terrific, but the degree to which children's genres have colonized the entire movie industry goes beyond overkill. More often than not, these collectively infantilizing movies are breeding an audience—not to mention a generation of future filmmakers and studio executives—who will grow up believing that movies aimed at adults should be considered a peculiar and antique art.

Wah and waah.

Earth to Harris: Hollywood has been interested infantalizing the viewing public for decades, especially if there are Big Bucks involved. And if, in 2011, the public flocks to live-action or actual cartoons, that is what Tinsel Town will give them, because the place is not a Florentine art shop but a lot of big, international conglomerates that are interested in making the most money in the shortest amount of time ...

But the caricature that Mr. Harris paints isn't exactly true. As he mentions the exception of Ben Affleck's The Town to the popcorn movie rule, so are there films like Black Swan, True Grit and The Fighter that were made on small budgets yet have raked in large profits. And whatever else they might be, they are distinctly not cartoons. (And some executive or other had to greenlight the things to get them produced.)

To yearn for the glory days of 1973, whem small films had leverage, Peter Bogdanavich was in full flower, and a big release was 300 prints circulating west of the Mississippi, is just silly. In the 21st century, young eyeballs occupy themselves with computer screens and and smart phones and fifty-inch flat panels with surround sound in the family recreation room. Nobody who counts themselves non-delusional should expect the movie industry to cling to business models forty years out of date. (The music business attempted the feat and the music business is now in receivership.)

Guaranteed money-spinners platformed worldwide are now the norm, except there are no guarantees anymore, as smarter motion picture execs acknowledge. Movie stars used to insure higher returns, but nowadays? Not so much. ("Cancel our bowling night, sugar pie! Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie have just opened at the Bijou in 'The Tourist'!") Today, studios place many of their bets on animated features because animated features are currently profitable. For much the same reason, directors with a high-grossing film under their belts, and a story they want to get up onto the screen, are getting their pictures made.

In the case of the Coen brothers, the picture was True Grit. For Darren Aronofsky, it was Black Swan. And for Gore Verbinksi, it was an animated feature about a chameleon (a two-fer!) Film-makers with track records will usually find a way to muscle the movies they want to get made into production, even if the movies are quirky and don't look like a sure bet.

Because, despite the conglomerates' best efforts, there are no sure bets. And enough of the powers-that-be know it to enable off-beat features to get made.


stevenem said...

The most asinine thing that Harris asserts is that, somehow, the movies are changing the audience. It's pure cart-before-the-horse stupidity. If anything, the production companies are ultra reactionary, always trying to recreate what was successful "last week," to hedge their bets.

As you say, there are no "sure things." People will always want to go see a good film, no matter who's in it or what technique was used to make it, (WOW, when is the next great speech therapist movie coming out?), especially when recommended by friends.

Over and over, we see that any kind of movie can fail, but how do you raise money by simply telling potential investors, "What kind of movie? I'm going to make a 'good' one, of course."

Anonymous said...

Similar articles get written virtually every year. Whatever happens to be the writer's pet peeve (musicals, westerns, cartoons, big budget spectacles, socially conscious art films, etc., etc.) gets blamed for pushing out the 'good' movies 'like they used to make' (which usually correlates to when that writer was a kid and developed a love of film).

Walter B. Gibson said...

Anyone here that Glen Keane is thinking about going over to DreamWorks Animation? That'd be a major blow to WDAS. He's one of the giants. I hope it doesn't happen.

Anonymous said...

What? Who said that? He's leaving? That's horrible, truly horrible. Why go to DreamWorks Animation?

Well, at least the fart jokes will be beautifully animated.

Hannah Barbontana said...

Steve have you heard this? I certainly hope it's just a gag. Right when you think Disney is back on track: BAAM!

Another blow. Don't let it be.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm wrong... but it does kind of make sense that during an economic depression and uncertain times in this country for a lot of folks, pure escapism (super heroes and cartoons) would be the money makers at the box office.
That being said I love cartoons and superhero movies. Depending on how good everything this summer reviews out to be, I've looked at the scheduale and there's about a movie a week on my 'want to see' list.

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